Marine biogeography and ecology: invasions and introductions
Although biogeography and ecology had previously been considered distinct disciplines, this outlook began to change in the early 1990s. Several people expressed interest in creating a link that would help ecologists become more aware of external influences on communities and help biogeographers realize that distribution patterns had their genesis at the community level. They proposed an interdisciplinary approach called macroecology. This concept has been aided by the advent of phylogeography, for a better knowledge of genetic relationships has had great interdisciplinary value. Two areas of research that should obviously benefit from a macroecological approach are: (1) the question of local vs. regional diversity and (2) the question of whether invader species pose a threat to biodiversity. The two questions are related, because both deal with the vulnerability of ecosystems to penetration by invading species. Biogeographers, who have studied the broad oceanic patterns of dispersal and colonization, tend to regard isolated communities as being open to invasion from areas with greater biodiversity. It became evident that many wide-ranging species were produced in centres of origin, and that the location of communities with respect to such centres had a direct effect on the level of species diversity. Ecologists, in earlier years, thought that a community could become saturated with species and would thereafter be self-sustaining. But recent research has shown that saturation is probably never achieved and that the assembly of communities and their maintenance is more or less dependent on the invasion of species from elsewhere. The study of invasions that take place in coastal areas, usually the result of ship traffic and/or aquaculture imports, has special importance due to numerous opinions expressed by scientists and policy-makers that such invasions are a major threat to biodiversity. However, none of the studies so far conducted has identified the extinction of a single, native marine species due to the influence of an exotic invader. Furthermore, fossil evidence of historical invasions does not indicate that invasive species have caused native extinctions or reductions in biodiversity.